The hunger!

Mar 19, 2010

A capstone project for senior Industrial Engineering students examines how Sodexo - Kettering University's food service organization - can offer new resources to increase sales and serve as a model for large organizations that utilize cafeteria services.

I shall foot it
Down the roadway in the dusk,
Where shapes of hunger wander

Carl Sandburg

Some poets, like Sandburg, write of hunger as a metaphor for sociological or personal concerns. Others have lived what it’s like to be hungry, using their growling stomachs as a symphony of poetic sounds from which they drew inspiration.

Fortunately, no one in the Kettering University community is going hungry. Let’s face it: everyone loves to eat, especially if the food, availability and accommodations are alluring.

Over the years, some have expressed a desire to see increased offerings from Kettering’s cafeteria services organization, Sodexo.

Now a student team has engaged in the critical research necessary to assist Sodexo in offering additional food options and services, which could spur sales and satisfy all Kettering community members.

It began with Dr. Matthew Sanders’ IME 454: Senior Design Project “Capstone” course during the fall 2009 term. This graduation requirement course challenges students in their final academic semester of the Industrial Engineering (IE) program to integrate and synthesize general engineering concepts learned during classroom lecture and discussion into solving real-world problems within a team environment.

So Sanders’ students, in conjunction with Sodexo Education, which provides food services to Kettering, set out during the fall 2009 term to investigate potential methods, develop recommendations and suggestions, and optimal solutions to better utilize their facilities and services efficiently as a means of increasing sales.

Sanders believes the success of these and other similar projects over the past several years goes to his students. They worked well in a team environment and with simple guidance, were able to use the Industrial Engineering tools in any industry to help them solve problems. Most importantly, they created a high quality project that could provide the Kettering community—and those who visit campus—significant, tangible benefits.

“This project could make everyone in the Kettering community very happy with the food service offerings if Sodexo acts on them,” Sanders said, adding that even moving on a few, “could prompt more people to use Sodexo services. These projects help students realize that different industries might have a higher rate of variability compared to traditional industrial engineering enterprises. But surely industrial engineering methods and processes can be used to improve any industry.”

On a specific level the team offered recommendations on how Sodexo could improve their Kettering operations by streamlining, optimization, analyzing and through more efficient utilization of existing dining facilities, as well as developing mobile food stand services in other parts of the campus. These mobile options would help Sodexo cater to faculty, staff and student populations which may not use the current food services resources in the Campus Center.

The project worked to offer specific ways to optimize the Sunset Room operations. This included modifying the current layout while modernizing room functionality for optimal performance; and utilizing the needs of Kettering students, faculty, staff and Sodexo employees, which involved cost of merchandise, use of effective marketing techniques and proposed cafeteria furnishings.

Some of the specific functions the team undertook included meetings with Sodexo staff, IT to gather information on current point-of-sale systems used in the Sunset Room and the potential of utilizing updated systems to decrease costs. The team also met with staff from the Physical Plant regarding storage, painting and furnishings for the Sunset Room.

But their efforts didn’t stop there. They devised surveys that they distributed to residents of Thompson Hall, fraternities and sororities and student-led organizations, which provided feedback on the Sunset Room as well as other demographic data. During the 4th week of the fall term, they conducted times studies at the Sunset Room to examine customer throughput, percentage of customers who made purchases, characteristics displayed by customers and whether or not the customer was a student or staff member.

Their findings are compelling. On average, 83 percent of customers during the morning and lunch period represent Kettering staff. Approximately 17 percent of customers are students, who rarely make purchases in the Sunset Room. As a result, only 32 percent of all chairs in the Sunset Room were utilized during the busiest time of the day, lunch, which means the room is severely underutilized.

To find out why, the student team made observations during the time studies they conducted to identify potential issues and insights on what could use improvement within the Sunset Room.

In some cases, there was a long wait at the cashier to make a purchase. Seating and furnishings are also out of date and uninviting. Another issue identified by the students was a lack of variety in quick food options.

But the solutions to these issues are simple to implement. For instance, Sodexo could use a service bell at the cash registrar and include additional food choices such as microwaveable entries. Other changes could include updating furnishings and providing student work stations to create a warmer, more inviting environment that increases foot traffic; providing additional ready-made food options; and establishing mobile cafeteria options that are strategically positioned throughout the University to serve customers.

This last point is of particular interest, according to the study. The Library is currently considering renovation plans and a mobile cafeteria option could potentially be included. This would drive increased Sodexo sales and increase traffic and use of the Kettering Library.

Sodexo staff agreed to work with the student team as they investigated the topic and found their research to be very helpful.

Greg Lepore, district manager for Sodexo in Michigan, felt the students did an exceptional job with the research and their presentation.

“We are incorporating the data from Dr. Sanders’ class and expect to present our vision for the future of Kettering food service soon,” he said.

The benefits of this effort for those involved are extensive. For example, some of these benefits that Sodexo and students gained include:

  • fresh, unbiased outside view and evaluation of their operations;
  • student input and suggestions for creating a more college-friendly environment;
  • numerous implementation options based on in-depth research and investigation, as well as objective data;
  • an opportunity to benefit the environment by using cost-effective recycled cardboard;
  • free consultation from a professor who has led numerous projects of a similar nature for many different industries in the past three decades;
  • a valuable work experience for students that differs to some degree from their co-op experiences;
  • an understanding among students that industrial engineering methods and processes can help improve any industry;
  • an awareness of contemporary issues relevant to Industrial Engineering; 
  • an opportunity to practice and enhance communications and team work among the different parties involved;
  • an introduction to projects that deal with food and service industries;
  • and a sense of accomplishment for benefiting the environment while helping the institution profit from recycling benefits.

John Schaub, who was member of the team leading this effort, felt the project was significant in terms of what he learned and with regard to how he applied his classroom learning to such a project.

“This was a great project and it captured what I believe to be the purpose of the class very well—serving as a consultant in industry,” he said. “There is nothing better than using your expertise when it helps a client's business needs, as well as potentially improving the quality of life for future Kettering students. The class was great preparation for my post-graduation employment. Since I graduated in December, I am now an Operations Management consultant for Alcoa Power & Propulsion.

"Just like the course, I am helping their business need by supporting process improvement and Lean initiatives in the plants, as well as improving the quality of life for our employees. Overall, I recommend that all IE students embrace this course, because it best fits what most IEs will eventually do with their degree in industry,” he concluded.

To learn more about this and other similar projects, or for more information on Dr. Matthew Sanders’ IME 454: Senior Design Project “Capstone” course and how it can help make positive enhancements to your business operations, contact Dr. Matthew Sanders at (810) 762-7946, or via email at

Written by Gary Erwin